Christian apologists in recent times try to propagate the idea that the Bible is the word of God, written by “inspired” scribes. Despite what they would like to believe, many discoveries, however, refute this belief. Most of the books of the Bible are not known and is simply attributed to certain authors which, when examined, shows that they could not have written it.
Richard E. Friedman aptly describes the situation of Bible “authorship”.
People have been reading the Bible for nearly two thousand years. They have taken it literally, figuratively, or symbolically. They have regarded it as divinely dictated, revealed, or inspired, or as a human creation. They have acquired more copies of it than of any other book. It is quoted (and misquoted) more often than other books. It is translated (and mistranslated) more than others as well. It is called a great work of literature, the first work of history. It is at the heart of Christianity and Judaism. Ministers, priests, and rabbis preach it. Scholars spend their lives studying and teaching it in universities and seminaries. People read it, study it, admire it, disdain it, write about it, argue about it, and love it. People have lived by it and died for it. And we do not know who wrote it.1
Bart Ehrman makes an interesting observation regarding the written text of the New Testament manuscripts and reached a conclusion not dissimilar to the Qur’anic charge.
The New Testament manuscripts were not produced impersonally by machines capable of flawless reproduction. They were copied by hand, by living, breathing human beings who were deeply rooted in the conditions and controversies of their day. Did the scribes’ polemical contexts influence the way they transcribed their sacred Scriptures? The burden of the present study is that they did, that theological disputes, specifically disputes over Christology, prompted Christian scribes to alter the words of Scripture in order to make them more serviceable for the polemical task. Scribes modified their manuscripts to make them more patently ‘orthodox’ and less susceptible to ‘abuse’ by the opponents of orthodoxy.2
We will be focusing on the New Testament and the “inspiration” behind its authorship. The development of the canonization of the New Testament has been discussed elsewhere.
Attributing Authorship to the New Testament Books
Let us start with “The Gospel according to Matthew”. It has been assumed that the author of the Gospel of Matthew was Matthew himself, one of the disciples of Jesus(P). However, internal evidence proves otherwise. Matthew did not write the Gospel attributed to him:
“…And as Jesus passed forth thence, he (Jesus) saw a man, named Matthew, sitting at the receipt of custom: and he (Jesus) saith unto him (Matthew), follow me (Jesus) and he (Matthew) arose, and followed him (Jesus).”3
It does not need to take a Biblical scholar to figure out that neither Jesus(P) nor Matthew wrote this verse of “Matthew”. This verse points to the fact that there is a third person besides Jesus and Matthew and that person wrote the “Gospel According to Matthew”. J. B. Philips, an Anglican translator of the Bible, in the beginning of the Gospel of Matthew, reluctantly acknowledges this fact:
Early tradition ascribed this Gospel to the apostle Matthew, but scholars nowadays almost all reject this view. The author, whom we still can conveniently call Matthew, has plainly drawn on the mysterious “Q”, which may have been a collection of oral traditions. He has used Mark’s Gospel freely, though he has rearranged the order of events and has in several instances used different words for what is plainly the same story. The style is lucid, calm and “tidy”. Matthew writes with a certain judiciousness as though he himself had carefully digested his material and is convinced not only of its truth but of the divine pattern that lies behind the historical facts.4
Another gospel worth mentioning is the “Gospel According to John”. This gospel is so different from the other three Synoptic Gospels that it is categorized distinctly from the other three. The Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) stand together and are in several respects different from the Fourth Gospel (according to John). It is commonly attributed to John son of Zebedee the Apostle of Christ, which makes it an eyewitness account of Christ’s life and works but there were also dissident voices.
K. Luke notes that:
Irenaeus mentions groups who rejected the Gospel of John. The Roman presbyter Gaius, appealing to the differences between Synoptics and Johannine Gospel, concluded that the later was the work of heresiarch Cenrinthus. Another group that repudiated the Gospel was the Alogoi. The negative position, it should be remembered never won acceptance in the early church, and any number of testimonies can be cited in support of the apostolic origin of the Gospel according to John.5
Such evidence can be found in many places throughout the New Testament. Although many people have hypothesized that it is possible that an author sometimes may write in the third person, still, in light of the rest of the evidence, there is simply too much evidence against this hypothesis.
Sometimes it is an individual’s own silence which proves to be the most deafening proclamation. For the period of a century and more the only “Scriptures” used by the first Jewish followers of Jesus were the Greek Septuagint translations (commonly designated LXX) of the Hebrew Old Testament, “the Law and the Prophets”, supplemented by various Jewish Apocrypha and the Sibylline Oracles (150 BC to AD 180); these were the only “authorities” appealed to by the early “Church Fathers” when preaching their new faith. Nowhere do they quote the books which we know today as the “New Testament.”
Naturally, if the “history” of the Trinitarian Church regarding their chosen Gospels and what are claimed to be the inspired writings of Jesus’ first Apostles were true, and these writings had indeed been accepted as authoritative at that time, then they would have been the most precious and potent documents of preaching for their doctrine. Undoubtedly, they would have spoken of nothing else but would have quoted them and appealed to their authority at every turn as they have been doing through the centuries since. But, for some 150 years, little or nothing besides the Old Testament and these Oracles were known or quoted. As said by the great critic, Solomon Reinach
With the exception of Papias, who speaks of a narrative by Mark, and a collection of sayings of Jesus, no Christian writer of the first half of the second century (i.e., up to 150 C.E.) quotes the Gospels or their reputed authors.6
In this day and age, some Christian scholars are even making the case for the authenticity of the Gospel of Thomas as the “fifth” Gospel. The Christians of this age have claimed that these books are false and forgeries. The Greek Church, the Catholic church and the Protestant Church are unanimous on this point. Similarly, the Greek Church claims that the third book of Ezra is a part of the Old Testament and believes it to have been written by the Prophet Ezra while the Protestant and Catholic Churches have declared it false and fabricated.
Grolier’s Encyclopedia says under the heading “New Testament, Canon”:
The process by which the canon of the New Testament was formed began in the 2d century, probably with a collection of ten letters of Paul. Toward the end of that century, Irenaeus argued for the unique authority of the portion of the Canon called the Gospels. Acceptance of the other books came gradually. The church in Egypt used more than the present 27 books, and the Syriac-speaking churches fewer. The question of an official canon became urgent during the 4th century. It was mainly through the influence of Athanasius, bishop of Alexandria, and because Jerome included the 27 books in his Latin version of the Bible called the Vulgate, that the present canon came to be accepted…7
Notice how the writings of Paul were the first to be accepted by the Trinitarian church. All other gospels were then either accepted or destroyed based upon their conformance to the teachings of Paul.
As have been already mentioned, we have already seen how Paul of Tarsus had all but totally obliterated the religion of Jesus(P) based upon the authority of his alleged “vision”. We then saw how his teachings were based more upon his personal philosophy and beliefs than any attempt to cite words or actions of Jesus himself.8 We further saw how he was later made the “majority author” of the New Testament and countless authentic gospels were burned and labelled “apocryphal” by his followers.
It is clear that where the authorship of the New Testament is concerned, it is shrouded in the mystery of assumptions by the attribution of the works to authors which are immediately disproved once the internal evidence is studied. If the authors of the New Testament cannot be wholly traced to the works which are attributed to them, how could the New Testament stand to the scrutiny of being “the Word of God”?
The question raises serious doubts about the legitimacy of “inspiration” behind the New Testament, as it is obviously the work of not just multiple hands, but unknown multiple hands.
- Richard E. Friedman, Who Wrote the Bible, (Harper San Francisco, 1989), p. 15
- Bart Ehrman, The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture, p. 4
- Matthew 9:9
- J. B. Philips, The Gospels, (Geoffrey Bless, London), Introduction
- K. Luke, Companion to the Bible, Vol 2, (Theological Publications in India, Bangalore, 1988), p .9
- Solomon Reinach, Orpheus a General History of Religions, p. 218
- Grolier’s Encyclopedia, under “New Testament, Canon”
- c.f. Galatians 2. Refer also to our section on Paul of Tarsus for an analysis of Paul from the Muslim perspective.